Monday, 1 September 2008

Was Piers Gaveston a blonde or brunette?

One of the most important pieces of information missing about Piers is his appearance. No likeness of him survives. There is no record of any official portrait. Even the chroniclers of the time do not describe a physical likeness of him unless you count the description of him at Edward’s coronation, where he is described as looking like the God Mars.

We know roughly his age when he met Edward of Caernavon and that he had seen military service – and gained some success. Perhaps then we can deduce he was in good, physical shape. Edward 1st considered him a role model for his son, and his good manners and grace were commented upon. The one piece of information that could give us any detail about how Piers looked is probably lost to us. After his death, Edward built him an elaborate tomb near his palace at Kings Langley. Needless to say, the Reformation accounted for the destruction of the Dominican friary and church. I contacted the historical society of Langley, and was told that a school now occupies the site of the friary, but it is possible the tomb survives underneath the school – though goodness knows what condition it would be in. It’s tempting to think that Edward would have wanted a fine effigy of Piers to adorn the tomb – and if so, and it survived, what a find it would be!

So we are left to fiction and the imagination of authors for a physical description. However, even they can’t agree on whether Piers was a blonde or a brunette. I always enjoy the anticipation of reading a novel with Piers in to find out whether he’ll be fair or dark haired. In most cases, he is dark haired, sometimes with a reddish tinge. He’s usually described as having dark skin – olive being a favourite adjective. Maybe this is to do with him being from Gascony, from the South of France (though Gascony was in English hands at the time), and bordering Spain. It doesn’t follow though that he has brown eyes to match his hair colour and dark skin – he often has green or blue eyes as well. When he’s blonde, he inevitably has blue eyes. He is of course always described as handsome. And anyone reading Chris Hunt’s ‘Gaveston’ will be quickly made aware that he has the most wonderful arse :)

The Hunt cover at least has a rather good-looking illustration of Gaveston on the cover – with dark hair and green eyes, and smooth, olive skin. A very blonde Edward II looks over his shoulder.

On the cover of a novel called Alice – well, Piers, in my opinion, looks like a 1970’s Mills and Boone hero – dark-haired and hairy chested! Sort of like Tom Jones in the 1970’s!

The worst cover by far is Brandon Purdy’s ‘Confession of Piers Gaveston’ – with a sinister, caricatured dark-haired Piers leaning over the shoulder of what looks like a 12 year old Edward II. Maybe the dreadful cover serves as a warning to the dreadful contents inside.

In a future post here I'll discuss my favourite portrayals of Piers in fiction - and erm, those that, frankly, irk me - and that's putting it mildly!


Alianore said...

I can only see Piers as dark-haired, myself!

LOL, I love the cover of Alice - it's soooo 1970s. The topless executioner is a particular highlight. ;)

Lady D. said...

Yep, I also lay my vote for a dark-haired and brown or green-eyed Piers. Somehow blond just doesn't seem right.

I looked up the Langley thing too. I would still love to go there though and stand in the playground - mind you, I'd probably get arrested for suspicious behaviour ;-)

Anerje said...

funnily enough, Lady D, one of my friends lives close to the school, and I sent her on a scouting mission - she got 'challenged' by the caretaker! LOL!

Anerje said...
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Anerje said...

alianore - the executioner has 'moobs' - as you noted in your blog. I can only see Piers with dark hair - but the chest hair - well, I'd rather not know about:)

Gabriele C. said...

Another vote for a dark haired Piers. :)